I thought I might take a moment to discuss a topic near and dear to me. I love stories. They’re just so amazing, and each one is special for it’s own reason. But what happens when someone truly creates something exceptional? A trend I’m noticing these days is that the greater a creation someone has, the more demand that artist is to create something greater, but that’s not a consistent measurement for any number of reasons. Lately, I’ve seen a number of people talk about how awful something is. I’d be in the middle of asking why they didn’t like it, and, inevitably, the other person would say something like, “His first book was so much better!”
OHHHHhhhhh! You’re not evaluating this story on it’s own merit, you’re comparing it to something else. Is it a completely unreasonable thing? Maybe not. I mean, every author and artist I know truly wants the next project to be better than the last. But I don’t know that I’d want to be judged on my last work, especially if I were ever lucky enough to create something amazing.
So what I’m going to do is look at a few projects to hopefully show what I mean.
The Star Wars saga: This might honestly be the most beloved story of all time. Even people who hate Star Wars (like, from 1980-something and beyond) still know it. They still get the jokes and memes. The original trilogy was lightning in a bottle. It does so many things well, and it hit people and culture at a perfect point in history. Here’s my statement though, no follow up, ever, could hope to hold up against it. First, we’ve had some 30 years to romanticize that story. We grew up, loving it, watching it, and reaffirming our love for it.
I don’t have statistics to measure this, but I’d be willing to bet money a guy is more likely to meet and marry a second wife before he’d be willing to let anyone touch is beloved Star Wars. Bold statement right? Is it? God forbid, if I lost Julie, I’d be devastated. I love her. I truly believe God made her just for me in the same way he made Eve for Adam. Still, I’ve already asked her to try and find someone new if I die, and, after time, I might find someone new for myself. But whoever I meet, I’d meet and get to know on an individual level. How fair would this hypothetical situation be if I compared my second wife to Julie? Even more, people don’t really even consider it. Sure, they may recognize things or appreciate things that remind them of their original spouse, but they don’t hold the previous spouse against the current one.
But make a prequel movie that doesn’t meet the twenty years of expectations I’ve placed on it, and we’ll riot. Make a sequel that doesn’t line up with my fan theory, and I’ll start a petition demanding Disney retcon the movie, and then I’ll lose my stuff because the director lacked the courage to stand behind his conviction of starting an original story line. This isn’t opinion, search #StarWars on social media and look at the hate. My sons actually said, “The sequels ruined Star Wars.”
That gave me pause. “Did you even watch it?”
“Did you like it?”
“Then how did it ruin it?”
“My teacher said so.”
First off, my kids are supposed to be learning skills, not being force fed your own personal opinion on art and cultural issues, teachers. No my sons are TAUGHT to hate a thing just because they want to fit in. (Tangent over.)
Here’s my point. You can say you like Star Wars, or you can hate it. But I wonder, if we had someone watch Episode 8, and make sure that person never saw the originals. What would that person think? What would happen if we watched that movie just for that movie? Is it a part of a whole, sure, but fans today are measuring against decades of romanticized expectations and anticipation. Disney doesn’t stand a chance. I’m not saying 8 was the greatest ever, but it’s nowhere near the worst, and no amount of Jar Jar Binx can honestly ruin A New Hope.
So why talk about this? Am I trying to justify 8 vs the other episodes? No, like Disney, I don’t stand a chance. Neither does 9. Fans have chosen to love or hate that movie already, and they’ll love it or hate it regardless of the content because they’ve chosen to love it or hate it. It’s like politics. I could say the most hateful things, do the most horrible stuff in accordance to anyone’s opinions, but if I label myself a republican, republicans everywhere love me. Do the SAME stuff, and label myself a democrat and democrats everywhere will embrace me. It’s honestly the same with these transcendent works.
The Cursed Child: People everywhere are pretty polarized about this story as well. I loved it. Now, fans didn’t have the same amount of time to romanticize this story, and I’ve noticed the dissatisfaction is way down. Do a survey, and I’d bet money those who hate it are those who grew up with Harry. I mean that literally. If they started it at 12 and finished it at 20-something, they probably hate Child. Find those older readers who were more discerning and less impressionable, and at the very least I bet money that group will have a much more standard Bell curve. Why do they like Beasts? They went away from all those main characters. Why don’t they like Grimwald? They made editorial decisions on Dumbledore. The only real way to stay in a universe and not get flack would be to create a new story with new characters who don’t alter or affect the ones people fell in love with. Solo might be the most hated Star Wars movie (maybe). But Solo doesn’t stand a chance. We love Han, and if the Han we see doesn’t fit into our romanticized view, we hate him. Frankly, no one can meet your romanticized view of a character.
So I fear ever writing that transcendent story. Because people forget what it means to truly create something transcendent. It’s notable specifically because it’s unique and original. I think a lot of directors, writers, and creators are unfairly held to a transcendent standard, and it takes away one’s ability to simply enjoy a story on it’s own merit.
I very carefully didn’t give too many opinions on what I thought of these things because that’s my point. There is not fair comparison. There is no fair opinion. The very nature of an opinion is based on emotion and thought more than any measurable standard. I challenge readers and viewers to think about this the next time you watch or read something. I’ve seen things I didn’t enjoy as much. My wife asked if I’d watch a remake of Krull or a sequel. I’d probably see the sequel, but I’d have to work very hard not to be unreasonable. I’ve had decades to imagine how I thought the story would go. My life as a writer even began with my work to pen a sequel to the story. So anyone else’s vision would just be insulting to me on a personal level because of my own filter and not because of the actual work, which really isn’t fair.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Do you disagree? I’d really like to have a civil discussion on this.
Thanks for reading,
2 thoughts on “The Curse of Greatness”
I think you are right about people’s pre-existing notions about stories and franchises. In some ways it reminds me of the concept of “fulfilling promises” and remaining faithful and honest with the audience. Within any given story, audiences develop a sense of what type of story they are experiencing.
I think part of the problem is audiences often treat the existing installments like “promises” that the newer iterations must deliver on, and over time, as a franchise grows more extensive, more and more potential promises build up.
I think a lot of people begin a story wanting something specific but vaguely defined, and focus on what the story isn’t, instead of accepting and enjoying what it is.
Then again, there are also times where a new installment or remake deviates too far from the central pillars of the prior content.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that most sequels, prequels, and remakes bind themselves too tightly to the prior content on a concrete level. They set out to firmly establish relationships between what came before and their new story, bringing back familiar characters, locations, etc.
For example, while I think the Fantastic Beasts iteration has its shortcomings, I thought the first film made a strong choice by setting itself in the same world, but a different part of it.
I think part of the challenge with a story like Solo or Prometheus/Alien Covenant is how the premise of being a prequel can be very restrictive. Where most stories focus on the open question “what would be interesting,” artists have to regularly “check in” with the existing content, make sure that they fit within it.
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